Well, the bus there provided us with quite the ride. India has quite a few "bros". That being said, let me explain. Chris and I kept seeing signs (official ones!) that said things like "Bro If Married Divorce Your Speed". It took us both a minute to realize that this meant that if you were going neck to neck with another vehicle, you ought to slow down and let it pass in order to avoid an accident. India is also plagued with the world's most STDs I have ever seen! In this case however, I am referring to signs which literally appear as "S.T.D", and not sexually transmitted diseases! Why? I'm not quite sure...but I am thinking it has to do with cellular communication. Also "vijay" signs are present and I am in search of the meaning of this one as well... The ridiculousness of the signs, aligned with seemingly non-important areas closed off and guarded by military and barbed wire, truck horns tooting all sorts of strange and unorthodox tunes, along with the sketchiness of passing through a town with just a few lights caused an outburst of laughter first on my part, and then on Chris' as well!
Amritsar itself received a visit from Chris and myself at about 3am, so by 3:30 we were done haggling over the price of one of the grimiest guesthouses we had been in...however it had a bucket which you could use to dump water on yourself in the bathroom (outside of the room of course), along with a few less cockroaches than you might find in a given guesthouse...not bad for India's standards. Hey, nothing seems to work properly and I like to say here "it could always be worse." I keep reminding myself that this is why I'm here: I WANTED a challenge.
Amritsar did not have much in it, aside from the Golden Temple, which is where people from all over the world gather to see this glittering mass of amazingness. I have seen many temples in China, so figured that these structures would not be my first stop. This temple however, was something unique, unlike anything that I have ever experienced before in my life. It is where the Sikh Religion's (google it, quite interesting!) holy book is held. These majestically yet modestly dressed humans have a full face of hair generally and rock a wicked turban! They also stay in the Golden Temple on rotations. There are always a few of them inside playing their ancient instruments and chanting their hymns (which is being broadcasted outside for all in the temple complex to hear). The temple itself is surrounded by a lake of holy water, along with a few other temple structures and a museum highlighting how the Mughals gruesomely tortured many Sikhs in the past! The scene is magical, and just as beautiful if not more during nighttime as it is during the day! The Sikhs do not require any fees upon entry of the complex or the temple itself; only donations are accepted. Food is served there and the complex remains open 24 hours! You must remove your socks and shoes to enter and you are given a token to get them back from the locker in which they are placed upon the termination of your visit. You must also wash your feet and hands in the water before entering to purify your body, and must cover your head with something (of course I came unprepared but they have bandanas outside for tourists lackluster in preparation such as myself...not going to think how many heads they were on)...Many people walking around barefoot, but not in comparison to all of the people (beggars and non-beggars alike) doing this!
Where is the sanitation here? I found China to be a rather dirty country, however the filth found in every alley, street and nook and cranny of this country is ASTONISHING. People seem to disregard the dirt on the streets, broken shards of glass, wet spots on the road, etc. draping their feet as they please (not the majority of course, and actually only a minority, but still many people)! Why is India so dirty? Perhaps because even fewer garbage cans can be found than in China, so where does the garbage go? Straight into the street and whatever is not eaten by animals like cows (monkeys are quite entertaining to watch, but are smart enough to only eat food and NOT the garbage associated with it..) stays there! For the first time in my life, I can SEE the filth as it accumulates under my fingernails and as it washes out of my clothing. (PS - Doing laundry on my own in Rishikesh, which I will get to a bit later in this post - a full two-week or so load was SO tiring! ..used to doing laundry but not manually and after yoga!)
So in Amritsar we also found a chain coffee house called Cafe Coffee Day, which I now love for their amazing iced coffees and ice-BLENDED coffees (ice mixed in!). They even have vegan shakes, WHOA!!! That and the Veggie Dominos (many restaurants are vegetarian only) are MUST trys. You can feed two people well for $7-$8 USD.
So after Amritsar we arrived in Haridwar by bus after Arriving late again and with little sleep from an outrageously bumpy bus ride, We found a decently priced guesthouse for the night and in the morning we walked around the town and to the Ganges (called Ganga in Hindi) River. This is the most sacred River to the Hindus, but MUCH more to come on this once I hit Varanasi. We found some strange festival going on to celebrate the 100-year celebration of some guru with many people walking around in tents (only a few foreigners...) and there was space for us! It seemed a bit extreme to celebrate something we did not really know, so we continued our search for ashrams in Rishikesh.
An ashram is a place where people can stay (usually) and yoga and meditation classes are offered. You can think of it sort of as a holy temple where you are living, eating and breathing spirituality (although this one is a bit watered down and catered towards more towards tourists). Upon arriving in Rishikesh, we found an ashram mentioned in Chris' Lonely Planet Guide Book. Normally I might not recommend it, but for India it is a good idea to have a copy due to lack of internet resources in many places! Shri Veda Niketan is the name of it, and we have been staying and living more spiritually for a few days and nights now! I have gotten up to attend early (YES EARLY!) meditation and yoga classes and I have actually felt quite refreshed for the entire day from doing so! The courtyard here is beautiful and has a small little pagoda-type area surrounded by a garden where many read or practice their newly-acquired yoga skills during the daytime when it is hot. It is filled with Westerners here, yet it is nice to be around them, providing a change from the India I had come to know for the past two weeks.
Our first room? Spiderwebs all over, concrete floors, spacious but utterly gross. Amount of nights spent there? Uno. Then we moved to another nicer place! ...that we later realized lacked a mosquito screen! Solution? Tape my mosquito net/tent to the wall with a few of Chris' many handy gadgets - in this instance a few large bandaids! Operation fail - by the morning the net had fell (though we protected ourselves with spray). We then jammed his sweatshirt in the vent along with my netting to fill the gaps, combining it into a somewhat legitimate mosquito net...NICE! This does not help however with the blasting bass of some convention, barking dogs, quarreling monkeys and voices outside the room, although we find a way to sleep at night :) Ironic that our gate closes at 10pm and we must be in at that time yet there is still noise!
The classes throughout the city consist of various types of stretching and breathing exercises, taught by many different masters and professionals of yoga. Even better: the classes (3 a day) are included in our stay. EVEN BETTER: there is a free yoga festival taking place here in Rishikesh right now, about a 10-minute walk from our place with LOADS of free classes all day and music at night! Speaking of music, Rishikesh became popular when the Beatles visited in the 60s, and a somewhat strange, incense-burning hippie vibe is still strongly present here!
103 Years old and MUCH more flexible than me!! Would you believe that this guy is with all of his teeth, not limping and in marvelous condition? Yeah, neither could I until I woke up at 6am this morning to see for myself! He was still loud and making lion noises (a lot of strange animal noises being made in this town, not only by animals but by humans too..), having a translator - well two actually - with him! Speaking of translations, I did the organizers of the event a favor and translated a class today into Spanish! This was my first experience translating! It proved to be interesting, however a did not meet the instructor until last minute due to a change in schedule and was not given many breaks between his sentences, proving difficult for me. I also forgot/did not know many words relating to the exercises being performed...all in all I did not feel like it went so well but better to give it a shot - that's how you improve! Also great practice for my Spanish!
How about sacred cows? You bettya! Not only do they not eat them, but these creatures are the freest I have ever seen...roaming around the streets taking holy sh*ts...literally :)
Sidenote: Buses can generally be gotten by just showing up at the station and asking, and any more planning than that is generally not advisable in my opinion. You will be told by some that a bus is coming at 5, by others that the bus will be coming at 10, and by others that there is a train only and no bus. BELIEVE NOBODY - many will take you to places where they are getting a commission from (mainly in reference to sleeping accommodations) - go see for yourself! Trains in this time of year seem to be a logistical nightmare in terms of securing a spot because of the amount of people traveling. Roundabouts 2 weeks in advance is necessary for booking most trains I would say, and avoiding the waiting list. The waiting list is essentially where you pay and hope that enough people to cancel for your ticket to become valid...not quite my style... a website called cleartrip.com provides a much more user-friendly website than does the Indian Government Railway's site.
Also, be prepared to enter a place and hear "Yes, please". I was confused at first, kind of thinking in the English I had learned...huh?! haha. I expected "Hello my friend!"...but instead found myself with the latter. I am also beginning to understand the head movement a bit more now. A slow nod in one direction accompanied with closed eyes and a smile is usually a confirmation, SCORE!!!!
We will become more spiritual for another 5 days here before heading to Varanasi, more to come soon! :)